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Researchers Find Drop in Income Can Reduce Brain Health, Cause Cognitive Problems

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Oct 16, 2019

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New research states that income drops and income losses that occur during young adulthood contribute to cognitive problems in the long term and reduce brain health in middle age.

The findings of the research, published in the journal Neurology, comes at a time when global economies stand at the brink of recession, and employment, and job security is tenuous, and natural career progression, unreliable.

“There may be several explanations as to why an unstable income may have an influence on brain health, including that people with a lower or unstable income may have reduced access to high-quality health care, which may result in worse management of diseases like diabetes, or management of unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and drinking,” study author Dr. Leslie Grasset from the Inserm Research Center, France, said in a statement.


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The study analyzed the pre-tax income of 3,287 individuals aged 25-35 every three to five years from 1990 to 2010. Of these individuals, 1,507 individuals reported an income drop either once or multiple times. According to the study, an income drop was defined as “a decrease of 25% or more in income, compared to the previous study visit’s income, and less than the participant’s average income from 1990 to 2010.”

All participants also completed tests for thinking and memory, where their accuracy and the time they took to complete the test were tested. Researchers found that people who dealt with income drops performed almost 3% worse than those who had no reduction in income. Grasset said that this performance was worse. Participants with income drops also took longer to complete their tasks. These results remained the same even after researchers adjusted for high blood pressure, education level, physical activity, and smoking.

A section of the study’s participants also underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at the beginning of the study and 20 years after. Researchers found smaller total brain volume in people with two or more income drops, as compared to those with none. Those with one or more income drop also had fewer connections between the different areas of their brain.

The study stated potential reasons for the link between a drop in cognitive abilities and income volatility/loss as, “…Perceived stress has been shown to affect cognitive function, dementia risk, and other age-related health outcomes. In addition, individuals with reported financial difficulties may have lower access to high-quality health care, which may result in worse disease management and management of risk factors for cognitive function. For example, individuals experiencing income volatility or financial strains may be less likely to visit a doctor or take their medication, consequently resulting in increased risk of brain-related diseases such as stroke. Moreover, educational attainment may also directly or indirectly, through occupation, living environment, or health behaviors, influence cognitive functioning. Finally, participants with income volatility and income loss may have lower participation in cognitively demanding leisure activities, which are thought to enhance cognitive function.”

“Income volatility is at a record level since the 1980s and there is growing evidence that it may have pervasive effects on health, yet policies intending to smooth unpredictable income changes are being weakened in the United States and many other countries,” said Grasset.

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Written By Aditi Murti

Aditi Murti is the senior culture writer at The Swaddle, with an interest in cultural analysis, environment, and the science of mental health.  Write to her using aditi@theswaddle.com, or find her on social media @aditimurti.

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